ASIS&T 2008: Credibility & Authority

Credibility and Authority of Information in Learning Environments
Presenters: Heidi Julien, Louise Limberg, Soo Young Rieh, Olof Sundin

[My comments/thoughts in brackets.]

Heidi Julien: What constitutes “credibility” for high school students?
University of Alberta, Canada School of Library & Information Studies

-Empirical study of high schoolers (last two years of school) in Edmonton, Alberta (western Canada, 3 hours east of Rockies) Conext of science courses – biology class.
-We already know students’ skills are unsophisticated & they struggle to evaluate info
-How do they evaluate science info? Criteria, aspects of scientific info that are trustworthy, what characterizes info to be relevant, how do they understand these criteria?
-Given an in-class assignment (chose a biome and answer some quesitons about it). Also answer questions about info-seeking for task. (Where did you look, how decide what to use, why pay attention to this particular one, etc). Students were also interviewed.
-Key Findings: most frequently went to internet (Google & Wikipedia for both academic & personal ?s). Went because it’s convenient. Mostly chose sources because they are related to the question. Two+ sources offer same/similar info, must be correct. Reputation also – educational institutes, textbooks (because from teacher), etc. [I was taught to evaluate sources by comparing them to one another – if everyone is saying the same thing, must be true. Problem with this on the internet is the ease of copying & pasting and how fast misinformation can spread. Once something is out on the internet, you can’t get it back.]
-Most said they developed searching & evaluation skills themselves. No formal instruction.
-Read some student comments from interviews — looked at design/organization of site, are there spelling mistakes, is it from a university, does the info strike them as being right vs what else they’ve seen.
-Conclusion: topical relevance trumps credibility. Rudimentary skills. Teachers don’t have the skills! Also, they have to teach to the test (tests = 50% of final grade & determine postsecondary educational opportunities). Info searching skills are not examinable 😦
-Next phase is talking to the teachers.

Louise Limberg: What is the relationship between cognitive authority and students’ learning outcomes?
University College of Boras, Sweden —  Swedish School of Library & Information Science

-What and how do students learn from info seeking & use? Relationship between quality of info seeking & use and quality of learning outcomes? How is cognitive authority shaped?
-Context – embedded in assingments. Students 8-19 years old, about 285.
-Exploring experiences of phenomena in the world; sociocultural perspective on learning.
-Interviews, observations, document studies (instructions the students get, curricular documents, actual assignments) — looking for patterns. Also ethnographic field studies.
-Findings: cognitive authority assessed from surface of info (level of expertise of source, learned language). Also from content – values & hidden interests of sources, compare contradictory info.
-One student said it’s hard to figure out what’s going on because everything is written from someone’s personal viewpoint. Another student thought it was fun to look at slanted info and see how non-neutral it was. Thinking hard about whether or not they can trust the source.
-Related to poor learning outcomes: They rely on expertise without questioning it. Use of first few hits from Google. High learning outcomes: Lots of sources, think about contradictory views, relate expert position to what the expert is saying.
-Interactions with teachers are crucial. Intention to teach students about evaluating info.
-High school librarian quote — students constantly questioning the info they are given. “It can become absurd if they don’t trust anything.” [Seems like the students have been made a little too paranoid.]

Soo Young Rieh: College students’ credibility judgments in the information seeking process
University of Michigan School of Information

-How are credibility assessments related to info seeking strategies & goals?
-It’s pretty typical to use multiple resources (even in personal life – Soo Young wound up getting info on Columbus from a friend, from Google & from hotel. Hadn’t intended that. Way that she evaluated each was different.) [Also, a lot of profs require a certain number of sources, and specifically state that students must use articles & books, and a limited number of websites.]
-People think about credibility unconsciously. Can be embedded into info seeking strategies.
-24 undergrads from 3 institutions. They got an online diary they used to track how they were picking sources.  (What did you need to find, how familiar with topic, what resources turned to, how much time, etc)
-Didn’t ask specific ?s about credibility. Didn’t want them to change their behavior. In interviews, asked ‘could you trust this info, etc’
-Findings: for academic use, concerned with credibility. Also concerned when spending $$ and for health-related questions (spent MORE time figuring it out for these tasks). Spent lots of time when it had social impact – this will be used by someone else; other people at the party I’m bringing hot apple cider to, I can’t screw it up! [My reputation is on the line.]
-Credibility & authority judgments are socially driven. When students write a paper, they think about how professors do things. They use scholarly articles, not that I care, so that’s what I’ll get for this assignment. Context affects how they judge credibility.
-Goal is to get best information as fast as possible. Start with a trusted person or place. [How can reference librarians leverage this thinking?]
-Again, is this info in multiple places. [Is this the only thing we are taught about evaluating sources?! This is a big problem for open-web searching. Example – Obama is not Muslim, but depending on where you wind up on an internet search that’s what you’d come to believe. You can ‘verify’ this information and come away thinking that’s the truth.]
-They will compromise credibility for speed/convenience. (This paper is due tomorrow.)
-Next research: credibility assessment with respect to user-generated content.

Olof Sundin, The EXACT project seen through a socio-cultural framework
Lund University, Sweden

-Studying info lit as practices – mutual shaping of activities. Tools are collective human constructions with norms & values for use.
-EXACT: EXpertise Authority and Control on the InterneT. On formation of source credibility in regard to web 2.0. 3 year project that started this year, lots of data collection so far. preconceptions among teachers/librarians about web 2.0 stuff as tools for learning? how do students relate to expertise in re: web 2.0? etc.
-Preliminary results: (wait, first an aside about logo of my school, which is a guy with a sword and a book — Renaissance ideal that is sadly lost.) [I wonder if that would help with bibliographic instruction . . . ]
-Following two classes (17- & 18-year-olds) in two schools, classes working on a long-term project. Picked schools where teachers are going beyond “No Wikipedia” and trying to figure out how to teach evaluation of web sources.
-Ethnographic tradition – listening to students. Each student has a blog that only they, researchers & teachers can read. [I wonder how that is working — are they using it?] Students asked to blog about sources they’re using – how found & evaluated. Researchers are commenting to help encourage the students. Also interviewing students, teachers & librarian. Students taking questionnaire. Shows a blog — some of the students have become attached to them.
-Student — I look at books when the librarian or teacher gives them to me. “I hardly think he would give me a book that sort of makes things up.” Another group of students is questioning everything because their teacher encouraged them to.
-More difficult for students to evaluate unfamiliar sources — especially those from other countries. [Excellent point.]
-Students use Wikipedia as background. [Ours, too.] Students don’t want to refer to it, even when teacher hasn’t specifically said “No Wikipedia.” [They are not as unsophisticated as we assume.]
-Students warned a lot about credibility of web sources. Is the book now reliable in a way it wasn’t before? Student: if I see something on the web and a book says something different, I’ll go with the book. “I think personally books are more reliable, or something.” [This could be problematic — how can librarians urge students to at least come use reference books if this is what they’re doing?]
-Professional borders between teachers & librarians are blurring. [No kidding. Needs to be more synergy here, especially for info literacy issues. Great opportunity for skill-sharing here — educational & classroom techniques in return for how to think about & talk about info literacy.]

[International aspect of this session is interesting — I don’t think students are so different, overall. I think a lot of this can be applied to students nearly anywhere. Definitely shows that teachers & librarians need to work together more closely in many cases — at the high school level & at the college level. Can academic librarians somehow help high school teachers with info lit skills of their students? How can we help students develop more sophisticated methods of evaluating sources, regardless of whether they are web or print? How do we help them break away from always trusting sources given to them by teachers & librarians, but without causing them to take every piece of help we give with a salt lick?]

[Questions were all very complex, I just took down bits & pieces of Q&A that caught my interest.]

Q: Very complicated question but mentioned Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. [Irony of me looking at this info on Wikipedia.] How do you build the deeper analysis of sources into the assignments?
LL: Bloom’s is kind of old, maybe not so helpful to think about anymore. Learning goals aren’t that inclusive of different dimensions of tasks. There are right answers to be found, there is a canon, we (teachers/librarians) can help you go deeper. Students taking a detour past their own info seeking & learning because teachers are too focused on the outcomes for the paper.

Q: What would these concepts look like if we studied them in the context of places where young people are cognitive authorities? (Harry Potter, technology, etc.) [Asked by someone who studies hobby/leisure use of internet & web 2.0 tech]
OS: They’re good at handling information about what they like to do. Totally different when you transfer this to a school environment. How can we learn from what they do when they’re doing hobby stuff? [Brilliant idea!]
SYR: Academic achievement is not necessarily something where they are more concerned about credibility. They know that they rely on profs, TAs, etc. For personal info, they have a lot of heuristics. They already know where to go — no hesitation. Much more confident, motivated. For academics, they have to evaluate each info object. [Great opportunity for branding of library — we need to be the place they automatically go when they are searching for academic stuff. Duh. Not news.]
HJ: Another study — saw students developing heuristics when looking into what will happen after high school. Her son is into cars & likes a particular TV show, but it’s not so much the show but the total credibility of the host, who is considered an expert.
OS: Illustrates how info lit is very contextual. Can be literate in one area but illiterate in another. [This is why people go with rules of thumb like comparing info in sources. What else do you do when you’re out of your depth, researching something you don’t understand to begin with?]

Q: Is Web 2.0 interactivity changing notion of role of the source for students? Model of knowledge construction between students & “sources” — students can interrogate source.
OS: Source criticism – how can we judge this document, does it represent reality in a true role? (History concept.) Relationship between artifact & reality is more blurred.

Q: We’re looking at students as info consumers, not as producers. Look at kids from this other way. Had a study where kids were creating sites for other kids – aggregating sources into their page for these other kids to use. Very different methods of evaluation. [Goes back to the social pressure point that someone made earlier.] Also comment on “any print source is good, use print!”
SYR: Fears that discussion of credibility is only focused on credibility of web sources.

Q: Grade 3 students – path of most familiarity. If they could handle indexes, they preferred books. If they had trouble with indexes, they’d do keyword searches online. How much of this has to do with the teacher & method of the project they’re working on?
LL: Another study – grade 2 – 12. Small differences in info seeking & use between different age levels. [I don’t recall getting different types of guidance about how to research & evaluate – same sorts of things every time we went to the HS library for help on doing our projects. This is problematic.]